Heading back home on old US Route 83, while Wendy was driving the rolling hills of Nebraska, she said, “I really like driving on these old two lane highways except that sometimes people take terrible chances passing.” Seconds later, looking ahead on the rolling highway, I said, “You mean like that guy!” We saw ahead in the distance someone coming toward us in our lane trying to pass a line cars and trucks. Wendy had to quickly pull completely off the road onto the rough shoulder (luckily there was one) to avoid a head-on collision.
Was it just a coincidence that she made her comment just before someone tried to pass, or was it more?
This wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened. A few months earlier, Wendy was driving into downtown St. Paul and I was riding shotgun. As we entered the city, Wendy began to drive very slowly and almost stop at each intersection even when we had the green light. I looked at her and asked, “Are you okay?” She ignored me and continued to drive in this overly cautious way. I asked again if she was okay and again got no answer. I began to worry that she was having some type of medical “event.” She again paused, actually stopping at our green light at the Wabasha Street intersection, when all of a sudden, a pickup truck sped through their red light going much faster than the speed limit. If Wendy hadn’t stopped, we surely would have been T-boned and seriously injured or even killed.
What happened in these situations? Carl Jung would say that synchronicity was at play. He described synchronicity as the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect, and that is meaningful to the observer. There are no rational explanations for these situations in which a person has a thought, a dream or inner psychological state that coincides with an event. Jung saw these synchronistic events as “signs” created by an integrated and purposeful universe that link us with other people as well as with animals and even inanimate objects through the collective unconscious.
Whenever synchronicity occurs, there seems to be a connection between the visible - physical world and the invisible matrix, unseen connections, the Tao, or the Great Mystery we call God. G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Coincidences are spiritual puns.” For Jung then, synchronicity is more than mere coincidence; it is characterized by a sense of meaning and numinosity.
Might synchronicity be more expansive than our psyche? Might it involve the invisible realm that the ancient Celts say is on the other side of the veil? Could it be a connection with what is called the spirit world, the place where our ancestors, the saints or spirit helpers we call angels dwell? Catholic priest and Jungian analyst Victor White argues that experiences of synchronicity come from the Holy Spirit.
During our visits to the church of El Santuario de Chimayo and the Catholic churches of Santa Fe and Taos, we noticed the importance of the intervention of the Santos, the Saints, to the spirituality of the local people. The emphasis of the art behind the main altars was not the crucifix, but many images of the saints, as in the photo of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis in Santa Fe above.
As I prepared for the Winter Solstice/Christmas Liturgy last year, I was searching the house for the cloth I cover altar with for this special liturgy. It was a deep blue cloth with small golden stars on it. It reminds me of Brigid’s mantle in the children’s book Brigid’s Cloak an Ancient Irish Story that I was planning to read during the Solstice service. The cloth was not in its usual place nor did it seem to be in any unusual places. Out of frustration and lack of any other possible places to look, I spoke aloud, calling upon Saint Brigit to help me find this cloth that would be reminiscent of her mantle. Immediately and without thought, I went down to Wendy’s painting studio and removed a cloth that was set over a box she was using for still-life painting. I opened the box and there was the starry blue cloth! I felt a bit bewildered and thought, “What just happened?” Did Saint Brigit guide me to the cloth? Being a psychologist, I cannot say with scientific certainty, but I did go into our chapel and light incense thanking her.
It is not only the saints or angels that may be involved in synchronicity. When Wendy’s brother Jim was near death, the family wondered about the stories of “signs” from deceased family members and speculated about whether something like this would happen to them. A few days after Jim’s death, we sat at our breakfast table and the pendant lights above our kitchen island began to dim and then grow bright over and over again. I finally walked over and turned off the lights. When I turned them back on, they seemed fine. Wendy had taken a video of the dimming and brightening lights and was posting it with an e-mail to family. After describing the phenomenon with the lights, she was typing “Wooooo”, when the computer suddenly auto-corrected it to “Jimmy,” the name Jim called himself, but no one else in the family used. By the way, the lights never did this before or after that day.
Can it be that just as stars cannot be seen in midday, our every day sensory awareness is not set for “seeing” the pattern of underlying oneness or connections with other unseen worlds that occurs in synchronicity? Cambridge biologist, Rupert Sheldrake describes how we are biologically connected in unseen ways through what he terms “morphic fields.” Social psychologist, Diarmuid O”Murchu, wrote in his book, Quantum Theology: Spiritual implications for the New Physics, “In the Quantum universe, all things operate within the context of relational interaction. Each synchronistic event is a clue hinting at the possibility that we, and everything in the universe, are invisibly linked rather than unrelated and separate.”
Perhaps X-Files character, FBI Agent Fox Mulder is somewhat right in his thesis that “We are not alone.” When we experience synchronicity, instead of feeling ourselves to be separated and isolated entities in a vast universe, we can feel a connection to unseen others at a deep and meaningful level. That underlying connection is part of the collective unconscious, the Eternal Tao, the Holy One, and a synchronistic event is a specific and very personal experience of that mystery.
The Tao of Psychology Synchronicity and the Self, Jean Shinoda Bolen, 1979.
Brigid’s Cloak an Ancient Irish Story, Bryce Milligan and Helen Cann, 2002.
Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, Carl G. Jung, 1952.
Quantum Theology Spiritual Implications for the New Physics, Diarmuid O’Murchu, 2004.
Morphic Resonance the Nature of Formative Causation, Rupert Sheldrake, 2009.